Hunter’s Inventory

Early summer is a great time for taking stalk of the annual wildlife production, especially if you’re a hunter.

A hunter can’t help but notice the young of the year that begin to expose themselves during late spring and early summer.

While flocks of larks, blackbirds and magpies are noteworthy, it’s the game species that catch the hunter’s eye and so it was this weekend as we focused on hunting at the ranch.

Our primary thoughts were centered on preparing for our August archery mule deer hunt – A4. Knowing that we need to prepare, we decided to spend the weekend hunting for our ranches limited population of pigs while also setting up targets and honing our shooting skill.

This morning we set out early in search of the dozen or so pigs that live on our 2,000 acre ranch, knowing that we might catch them out in the open grassland when they are easy to spot.

IMG_3255 ducklings

Signs of a good mallard hatch have been abundant.

The pigs were elusive, but at the second pond we checked, my brother, Rob, couldn’t help but notice that a mallard hen and its brood of four ducklings were huddled up on the pond’s dam, a good sign that four young of the year had survived long enough to create a sense of optimism about their chances of reaching maturity.

We recalled that last year a hen mallard (maybe the same one) on that same pond had lost its entire brood.

We moved on searching for the pigs, but they were not cooperating. We couldn’t help but notice that deer numbers were dismal. The drought of 2014/15 had a drastic impact upon the number of deer on our ranch and we covered three-quarters of the ranch without seeing a single deer. Finally a lone yearling doe stuck it’s head up out of the annual grasses.

On the other hand, flocks of quail were diving into the brush everywhere we went, especially when we drove through a 200 acres brush patch that provides the most security for quail. I’m sure we saw several hundred quail, in every size and shape. Prospects for quail season hit the roof.

Valley quail

Prospects for quail in 2017 are excellent.

In general, game birds seemed to be doing well. Quail and dove especially, but we also came upon a group of five gobblers that were following a hen around. Seems a little late, but they didn’t want to give up. One of the five toms had a beard that looked to be eleven inches long and was quite thick.

Although we didn’t find the pigs, we think they are around the area somewhere. In the meantime we filled our archery targets full of holes,  set back the local ground squirrel population and I managed to get started on sighting in the rifle that I intend to use on a late-season mule deer hunt next fall.

We also avoided an impending disaster when Rob opened up the Kawasaki Mule and discovered that rats had built a nest inside and nearly destroyed the wiring that controls virtually everything. It was also a fire hazard in the making.

We also confirmed our date for scouting the X2 zone, enjoyed a few cocktails and barbecued some of last season’s venison.

The big disappointment was seeing no bucks, but that was somewhat offset by the fact that the does appear to have multiple fawns. Maybe the predator population is down as well and if so we will have deer again in a few years.

DSC_0077[1] doe and fawns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All My Hunts are Trophy Hunts

Here’s a classic African trophy mount from my trip to South Africa in July 2007. It hangs in my family room.

When you look up the definition of trophy, you will find something like, “A prize or memento held in remembrance  of winning a competitive event.”

If you do some research, you’ll find various definitions of trophy hunting that go something like this: “Trophy hunting is hunting with the intent of retaining some type of trophy associated with the successful kill of an animal, typically a big game animal.”

Recently I made a claim that I prefer plain hunting to trophy hunting. My companion replied, “That’s because you like to harvest an animal.”

I replied yes, but besides killing the animal, I also like the preparation for the hunt, looking for suitable game, excitement of the stalk, anticipation of the shot, tracking, dressing out, sharing with others, creating food products, eating the meat, observing my animal mounts, etc.

The reason I made the statement about plain vs. trophy hunting was to point out that many people hunt to reach trophy standards created by others. When you hunt by this standard, you pass up opportunities to bag animals because others don’t consider them a trophy – even if you do.

I was pleased with my 2011 muzzleloader buck, a small trophy.

After reflecting a little longer, I replied that the most exciting part of the hunt for me is right after I make the decision to kill something. That’s when my predator adrenaline kicks in – when I realize that the critter I’m looking at is possibly going home with me as my trophy.

Although I wanted to bring home some venison from my 2011 Nevada mule deer hunt, I wasn’t inclined to kill one of these small bucks which, stood around about 100 yards from me and my ATV.

There’s a difference between looking at a deer and looking at a deer you intend to shoot. Every deer is an easy target until you decide you want to take it home. Once killing a specific animal becomes your objective, the hunt takes on a new perspective.

There’s a big difference between photographing a deer and shooting at it. I never get nervous while photographing a deer, but shooting a deer is a completely different experience. And, I get excited every time I shoot an animal. That’s because I only shoot animals that excite me. I guess you could also call them “plain”trophies.

Here  is Lola with one of my most recent trophies. The breast meat is in my fridge and the tail feathers decorate my family room.

Are Wildlife Management Programs Going Astray?

Traditional wildlife management is based upon an assumption of consumptive use. 

 

With consumptive use as a goal, habitat is managed to produce a healthy wildlife population with some species targeted for harvest. Healthy habitat produces a surplus of the targeted species, the ones desirable for human use. The surplus is available for consumption, with no net loss of the base population. 

This scenario is a win-win situation. More animals overall and also more available for harvest. Since consumption requires killing the animal being consumed, the sacrifice of the individual life of an animal is accepted, but the welfare of the target species, whether it be a herd, flock or family group, is enhanced. 

Tule elk were once on the verge of extinction, but hunters brought them back.

The Endangered Species Act has helped to promote the plight of numerous species which have been or are threatened and endangered to the point that the species could become extinct. But, the philosophy of the endangered species act tends to promote the welfare of each animal as an individual. This is appropriate if a species’ population dwindles to double digits. 

The killing of an individual animal listed as endangered is considered a “take” and it is illegal. That the killing of an individual animal undermines the welfare of a species seems intuitively obvious to any observer, educated in wildlife management or not. 

Unfortunately, there is a counter-intuitive component built into the issue of “take.” Management activities that promote the welfare of the species often require risking death or even  guaranteeing death of one or more individual animals. 

Therefore, the killing of a limited number of individual animals should be allowed when the action taking place ultimately enhances the survival of the species as a whole, but this is not the case. 

You can't rebuild a pond without making a mess.

Most recently, the issue of habitat improvement work related to enhancement of California tiger salamander breeding habitat has come into play. Land stewards who wish to rebuild dams and deepen stock ponds to enhance tiger salamander breeding opportunities are foreclosed from doing do as the issuance of a permit requires that there be no take. This type of conservation strategy is referred to as avoidance or minimization of take. In fact, this strategy can backfire. 

This CTS larvae, along with many others, was found in a recently rebuilt pond.

Brush that provides a sanctuary for Alameda whipsnake and many other species, should be thinned periodically to produce optimum habitat. Burning is often the prefered method, but mechanical clearing, crushing or pruning are other techniques that produces results. 

Alameda whipsnake

Unfortunately, none of these options can currently be used by land stewards for fear that an individual snake will be killed. Under current rules, there are few if any options that will allow a permit necessary to take one animal under these circumstances. 

If this type of thinking creeps into the minds of some traditional wildlife managers and the welfare of an individual animal is raised above the welfare of habitat supporting the species in general, we have a big problem. 

Habitat may not be warm and cuddly, but proper management of the critical habitat for a species must take priority over the welfare of individual animals.

Conservation Culture Wars

There’s a war going on. It’s a conservation culture war.  Traditionalists believe hunters and fishermen have been major supporters of wildlife and there is plenty of evidence to support that claim. Those who oppose consumptive uses would like to find a way to supplant that financial underpinning for wildlife habitat.

This is nothing new, but there are other wars going on within the conservation community as well. Within the Federal and State Wildlife agencies there are those who believe in “hands on”government  and those who believe in only government oversight of activities that can better be developed by private enterprize.

This battle is typically between those whose comfort lies with relying on the dominance of a big government run by bureaucrats vs those who work in the private sector and believe in the creativity and efficiency that financial rewards can produce.

One example is the ongoing battle between private sector interests (conservation and mitigation banks) versus Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP), which is a big government venture. These entities are so counter to each other that the USFWS has two competing departments within its organization and the two don’t seem to be able to coexist.

In another arena, it appears that the California Department of Fish and Game is about to extinguish the private sector from managing endowment accounts that private continuous funding for Conservation Banks. Eliminating the private sector and NGO from this industry is misguided. There would certainly be growing pains while private enterprize faces the steep learning curve required to set up these programs, there would also be a big payoff.

The use of private parties and NGOs to hold endowment funding for long-term conservation programs which assure the perpetual existance of many species, would minimize the cost to taxpayers and build a conservation network much larger than we can afford government to become.

Currently, big government seems to be winning the war and private enterprize seems to be waning (in both the large and small arenas), but you never know as politics are volatile . Personally I enjoy freedom derrived from being entrepreneurial and independent. Maybe I’m an endangered species.

COHA: A Huge Agenda for CA Hunters

The California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA) held its annual meeting for members last week. The program showed that they are seemingly involved in every facit of California wildlife conservation. A non-profit 501 c4 organization, COHA, has the ability to lobby the state legislature in support of legislation that benefits hunters and fishermen as well as lobby against legislation that damages their members.

Here are a few of the areas where COHA is active:

State

State Legislature: Lobbies in support of and opposition to legislation affecting hunters.

State Resource Agencies: Created the SHARE program creating additional hunting opportunity for California sportsmen. Supports public hunting on Refuges and Wildlife Areas

California Fish and Game Commission: Routinely appears before the F&G Commission on behalf of hunters. Works with F&G Commission subcommittees such as the Al Tausher Committee. 

Federal:

U. S. Congress

Regional:

Willow Creek Mutual Water District – Lambertville, Black Point Sports Club – Sonoma County, Suisun Marsh – Bay/Delta, Grasslands – San Joaquin Valley, Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area – Southern San Joaquin Valley, Mystic Lake – Riverside County, Klamath Basin

Political Action: COHA raises funds in support of pro-conservation candidates for the California legislature. COHA meets with candidates to develop support for the California Department of Fish and Game for the benefit of hunters and fishermen.

COHA obtains much of its funding via donations from conservation organizations such as the Mule Deer Foundation, California Waterfowl Association, California Deer Association, National Wild Turkey Association, Delta Waterfowl Association and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Funding is also obtained by individual donors, the Outdoor Industry, Hunting and Shooting Clubs.

COHA organizes a few events each year to generate funding without competing with other conservation groups. COHA also lends a hand to other organizations to assist them with fundraising.

COHA plays a private sector role in organizing and promoting the California Legislative Outdoor Sporting Caucus. Activities include a dinner, trap shoot and tours to help educate Caucus members and their staff on hunting related issues of importance.

Here’s a link to the COHA website where you can obtain more details about COHA and find out how you can support their efforts: http://outdoorheritage.org/

COHA staff, director and members posed for a group picture before departing from the Members Meeting last week. (L to R) MDF Regional Director – Randy Morrison, COHA Member and Wilderness Unlimited Manager – Rick Copeland, COHA Vice President for Legislative Affairs – Mark Hennelly, MDF President/CEO and COHA director – Miles Moretti, and COHA Directors of Development – Rick Bulloch and Gretchen Heffler.

California Hunting Opportunity Under all-out Assault by Humane Society of the US?

This email message just came in from Rick Bullock of the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance. He paints an accurate picture of what’s happening in California. Hunters must take action. Groups like the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA) need support from hunters everywhere. California is targeted for action by these anti-hunting groups because it’s the weakest link in the chain. Once they snap the California link, they’ll be off and running.

Hello all, 

I’m writing to bring you up to speed on several important issues COHA staff have worked over the last week, as well as to provide an update on two key committee hearings scheduled for Tuesday morning. 

First, I attended the US Forest Service National Planning Rule meeting in Sacramento on April 6th to promote and protect hunting opportunity on federal land and was very concerned to learn that “recreation” wasn’t even mentioned in the “guiding principles” for the new plan, which addresses current and future needs of the 155 national forests and 20 grasslands in the National Forest System. Yes, you read this correct, and the plan is for all forest lands in the nation, not just our state.  Additionally, COHA President Bill Gaines attended the California Fish and Game Commission meeting, held in Monterey on April 7th and 8th, to stymie the Humane Society of the United States’ attempt to disrupt hunting management decisions that are based on the best available scientific data. Specifically the animal rights groups are strongly opposing the mammal hunting regulations that will guide big game hunting through 2012.  It was reported that at the meeting, HSUS and other anti-hunting groups outnumbered COHA and other interested sportsmen by 20 to1.

 Finally, our outdoor heritage will be in the spotlight tomorrow in the state legislature and COHA staff lobbyists Mark Hennelly and Jason Rhine will be there to ensure California’s sportsmen and their conservation groups are represented. We are entering a time when sportsmen must finally grasp that our outdoor traditions are under a full assault from all directions. Below is a snapshot of some, not all, of the bills and hearings Mark and Jason will be covering tomorrow.

The Assembly Water Parks and Wildlife Committee will hear AB 2223 (Nava), which would prohibit the use of lead shot on the Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Wildlife Areas and public shooting grounds.  The bill is sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States and several environmental groups. The California Outdoor Heritage Alliance is strongly opposed to AB 2223 because it substitutes politics for sound science.

On April 5, 2010, Assembly Member Feuer (D-Los Angeles) amended AB 1810 to require the Attorney General of California to permanently keep and maintain a firearms registry that includes extensive personal information of all firearms purchasers. Under AB 1810, those who purchase a firearm will be required to register that firearm by submitting their name, address, place of birth, phone number, occupation, and sex to the California Department of Justice.  COHA is in opposition to this bill and feels AB 1810 is little more than an extreme invasion of California Sportsmen’s personal privacy.

 Assembly Member Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) has introduced AB 2186 to prohibit a person from owning, purchasing or possessing a firearm for 10 years for violating the state’s “loaded firearms” laws. COHA opposes this legislation because it imposes an overly harsh penalty on hunters who may unwittingly violate loaded firearms laws.

For more information on these bills or other legislation of interest, please visit our website at www.outdoorheritage.org   

Is Hunting a Sport?

After playing baseball for 25 years I can remember my days in the sun ‑ both of them.

Some high points come to mind… stealing a base and knocking in the game winning run a couple times, but unfortunately there were many more times when I missed fat pitches that came “right down the pipe.”

As a kid, baseball was very important to me. It was one of the ways I defined myself. In sports, athlete’s go for it. They swing for the fence, sometimes connecting and often failing. But in hunting, “going for it” often has unintended consequences.

My first year of deer hunting took place in 1971. I unleashed a rain of arrows on the deer of Lassen County. I finally killed the twelfth buck I shot at. It was not an efficient event, nor was my conduct a standard to follow. I wasn’t thinking about those things. I just wanted to kill a buck. I thought hunting was a sport. Amazingly, I didn’t wound any animals before I finally killed my buck.

A few years later, while hunting in Oregon’s Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, I shot at a forked horn mule deer. The arrow was on line but fell low, hitting the buck in his left front leg. The sight of him stotting off on three legs with his front leg dangling by a tendon comes to mind.

As vividly as a recall the thrill of my first buck, I also recall my anguish of wounding that forked horn. We have limited ability to control the course of events in the physical world. Going five for five or hitting a home is a great thrill for a baseball player, and killing a nice buck is just as thrilling for the hunter, but once one has wounded an animal the difference between these activities is made much clearer.

Unlike baseball, my archery hunting carries on. I’ll never go five for five again, but I may take a great mule buck with wide antlers. Maybe it will happen this year. I’ll never go back and analyze my swing to figure out why I couldn’t hit more balls over the fence, but I can improve my shooting technique and self control. I can care for my equipment and tune my bow. I can practice to become the best archer I can be.

My archery career is still in full bloom. I can become a better archer and a better hunter, but I must spend time evaluating what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. 

A friend of mine recently discovered his grandfather’s bow, a hand crafted Osage orange wooden long bow. He was excited by the find and committed himself to hunting with it. He has sought out advice from professionals and is preparing to hunt with the primitive weapon. I hope it will be a satisfying hunt for him.

There was a time when I made a similar choice. About 20 years ago, I purchased a long bow and vowed that I would hunt mule deer with it. I remember my first stalk. I came around a large boulder on a Nevada mountain within 15 yards of a modest three‑point buck with pitch‑black, velvet antlers. I drew and released. The arrow sailed several feet over his back as he walked off. I have never felt as defeated as I did at that moment. I had no chance. At fifteen yards, the buck might as well have been 100.

I wasn’t prepared to wait for the ten yard shot, so I hung the primitive bow up, realizing I would never acquire the skill necessary for effective big game hunting with a long bow. If hunting were just a sport, there would have been no reason to give up on the primitive bow.  But,  hunting is not a sport.

You can treat hunting like a sport, but if you do so long enough, you’ll probably agree with me that hunting is a unique activity which has great merit, very personal results and is best practiced with a high level of individual integrity.

That’s why it’s so worthwhile.